Reaching Our Potential

A recent study claims that praising a student for being smart may not be such a good idea and should be avoided. Rather, a child should be praised for his effort. I’m not sure of the full merits of this study but it certainly makes some very valid points.

Schools are very competitive and sometimes tend to overemphasize the importance of getting high grades rather than putting the emphasis on a student’s effort. One need not make a million dollar study to realize that this can be rather detrimental to a student who tries his very best yet always gets low grades. It’s very important that students clearly understand that each one of us is different and that they are only responsible to try their very best.

I once took a few different size cups and put them on my desk and asked a student to fill them up with water. After they were filled, I asked him why he had put more water in some cups and less water in the others. “Some are bigger and some are smaller was his quick reply,” not realizing why I asked him such a foolish question.

“Exactly,” I replied. “Do you think Hashem gave all of us the very same size brain?” I asked rhetorically. Just like no two people have exactly the same fingerprints, so, too, no two people are born with the same size brain or talents. Some people have an excellent memory while others may be better at comprehension. Some people are natural artists while others have an excellent ear for music. One can’t expect an artist who is tone deaf to play an instrument; neither can one expect a musician who is not an athlete to play basketball or baseball. Some people are born with two right hands while others may have two left hands. Some people are born very bright while others may find learning very difficult.

“Do you think Hashem expects the same from everyone?” I asked my students. Each person is only obligated to reach his own potential, is what I tried to explain.

One must also be very careful never to feel superior just because one can do something better than someone else, I continued. Neither is anyone permitted to laugh at other people’s mistakes. Shaming another person not only hurts his feelings but can cause us permanent damage in the world to come.

Such discussions are very important. It’s extremely important that we never allow students to get away with laughing at others for their foolish mistakes or remarks, since this can cause great damage to their self image and is clearly forbidden by the Torah. A teacher or rebbi who sits by passively and allows it to happen without putting an immediate stop to it is actually lending sanction and condoning such behavior. When other students in the class witness such behavior going on in their classroom and they laugh along, it only encourages the others and they all become accomplices to this disgusting and horrendous behavior. When kids see this happening, they should do their very best to impress upon their classmates that such behavior is totally unbefitting of them and certainly doesn’t meet their approval. Sometimes an admonishment from a friend can be worth even more than one coming from a teacher or rebbi.